The Tuareg are a large, traditionally nomadic ethnic group inhabiting the Saharan region of northern Africa, and beyond, who are known for their artistic traditions including indigo-dyed textiles, carved silver jewelry, and colorful leatherwork. Multi-award-winning leather artist, Haoua Albaka of Niamey, Niger, is the president of La Cooperative Tawre, an extended family of artists maintaining Tuareg artistic traditions. While the cooperative’s wares are beautiful and demonstrate extraordinary artistic skill, they are utilitarian; their leather bags, belts, turban bands, and necklaces are used in the everyday life of Tuareg people to meet the needs of nomadic living.
Originally from Agadez, an important capital of Tuareg culture and trade, Haoua learned the art of leatherwork from her mother and aunts, eventually becoming a master of her craft. In an all-woman workshop, she and the cooperative dye goat leather and sinew with natural materials to achieve rich colors such as burgundy, indigo, and turquoise, which are created from a mixture of bronze powder and fermented goat milk. Leather is cut, painted, and embroidered to embed further ornamentation. The bags feature Tuareg crosses, sacred geometry, constellations, and symbols of the four directions.
Despite the recognition she has received for her artworks, including museum exhibitions alongside her brother, silversmith Moussa Albaka, Haoua continues to live a simple life on her land. She dreams of one day building her own home and a learning center to pass on traditional Tuareg artistic techniques to the next generation. Haoua has already helped many women, including her daughters and nieces, make a living for themselves through leatherwork while keeping her culture and traditions alive within her community.